Festival Confidential: Hey, girl, AFI Fest has come to a close

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AFI Fest ran through Nov. 12 in Hollywood, where the red carpet was rolled out for stars such as Angelina Jolie Pitt, Ryan Gosling and Will Smith. We went behind the scenes from the hottest movie premieres to their exclusive after-parties.

Goodbye to AFI Fest and my misspelled press pass

Ryan Gosling celebrates birthday, 'Big Short' premiere

Having a movie premiere on your birthday: the coolest thing ever, or a total buzzkill?

For Ryan Gosling, walking the red carpet for “The Big Short” on his 35th felt special – but mostly because of the where the movie was debuting: the TCL Chinese Theatre.

“It’s cool that it’s at Mann’s,” he said, referring to the venue by its old name. “Because anybody who moves here to be an actor, you come to Mann’s. It’s like one of your first stops along the way.”

“The Big Short” made its first stop on the award season trail Thursday, closing out the eight-day-long AFI Fest with a splashy premiere that saw Gosling, Christian Bale and Steve Carell decked out in their finest. They looked far better on the carpet, in fact, than they do in the movie, in which the actors play finance guys who have the foresight to bet against the housing market before the crash of 2008.

“These are the guys that are not well dressed and don’t have great haircuts,” director Adam McKay told me on the carpet. “They’re not the Goldman Sachs guys. They’re all kind of weirdos and outsiders.”

Accordingly, McKay outfitted his leads with bad wigs and even more hideous spray tans. He even asked Carell to gain 25 pounds.

“The director asks you to do it and you think, ‘All right, I like pizza,’” Carell recalled. “It sounds pretentious, but it definitely helps when you do things like that. You move differently, and clothes hang on you in a different way.”

Carell, who joked that he ended up with “a classic look,” was astonished at how such handsome actors ended up looking so bad – especially Gosling.

“When I stepped out of the trailer for the first time and I saw Steve Carell,” Gosling explained, “he looked at me, totally deadpan, and said: ‘Never do this again.’ Sage advice.”

Speaking of advice – you know who didn’t have any for McKay? Michael Lewis, who wrote the book on which the film is based. This is the third time Lewis has seen one of his films turned into a film – he also wrote “Moneyball” and “The Blind Side” – and by now, he’s developed a hands-off approach to the Hollywood process.

“For someone like Adam to take my book and make it into something good, he has to pretend to be respectful of the book, but in fact what he has to do is shatter it,” the author said. “So you can’t get too attached to what you wrote. And when I heard Adam was doing the adaptation, I thought, that’s exactly who needs to do it. Outrage will not get someone from Page 1 to 300. The danger with the movie was someone would come in and try to make a big political statement and bore everyone to tears and forget that the point of this is everybody coming out feeling like they had a really wonderful night.”

Does 'Concussion' go easy on the NFL?

Even though the NFL drama "Concussion" doesn't come out until Christmas, the Will Smith film has been generating headlines for months. That's largely because of a story the New York Times published in September, which stated that Sony Pictures — which is releasing the movie — altered the script so as not to incur the wrath of the NFL.

But now that people have actually seen "Concussion," it seems the movie doesn't go easy on the NFL whatsoever. The film, about a doctor who uncovers the connection between violent hits and brain damage, screened for the first time at AFI Fest on Tuesday. Here's what the buzz was on Twitter afterward:

No secret screening? Boo!

Bradley Cooper stars in

Bradley Cooper stars in "American Sniper." (Warner Bros.)

This just in: AFI Fest representatives tell me there will be no secret screening at the festival this year.


The secret screening has become a fun tradition at the fest in years past. Last year's was particularly splashy: Clint Eastwood turned up to unveil "American Sniper" for the first time, and the movie went on to earn awards buzz and become a huge commercial hit. Other hush-hush screenings have included "The Fighter," "Haywire" and "Skyfall."

Alas. At least we still have Ryan Gosling to look forward to on Thursday.

Will Smith is all smiles before somber 'Concussion' premiere

Judging by this picture our photographer Jay L. Clendenin took a few hours ago, Will Smith is having a pretty good time at the premiere of his new movie "Concussion."

But according to tweets from some of my colleagues inside the TCL Chinese Theater -- where the movie started playing around 8 p.m. -- the vibe is pretty somber. In the film, Smith plays Bennet Omalu, the doctor who's taken on the National Football League with his research about how much brain damage players suffer during games. And not only is Omalu at tonight's gala screening, apparently there are some other special guests in attendance, too:

Emotions run high at 'The 33' premiere

Take a good look at that rocket ship-esque contraption. Now, imagine yourself hopping inside and being pulled over 2,000 feet from below ground in total darkness, surrounded only by rock.

It's hard to remember that that's what 33 Chilean miners did just five years ago, after being trapped underground for 69 days following a disastrous cave-in at the San José copper–gold mine. We all watched on the news as the miners were pulled to safety, but looking at the capsule outside the TCL Chinese Theater on Monday night, the wonder of the rescue was underscored all over again. The capsule, known as the Phoenix, was on display at AFI Fest for the premiere of "The 33," director Patricia Riggen's upcoming feature film about the 2010 mining accident.

Though four of the 33 survivors were on hand at the event on Monday, the filmmaker called upon star Antonio Banderas to speak to the power of their story. In front of the packed theater, he recalled how heartened he was when the miners' story captured the world's attention.

"We are receiving so [much] bad news," the actor said. "Suddenly, this story created, somehow, an invisible web all around the world of people who were begging for life... This movie tries to be a poem to life itself and to the importance of the most simple things. That is the hug of a sister, of a mother -- an empanada."

If you're wondering why he referenced the stuffed pastries, that's because one of the characters in the film is supposed to make particularly good empanadas -- which the miners crave while trapped. Sadly, there weren't any served at the after-party -- just black truffle mac and cheese. Hollywood, man.

A special setting for AFI Fest premieres

Five things we learned from all these cool people

OK, look at this picture and tell me what these fine individuals have in common.

Yeah. Ostensibly, it's not a whole lot. They're mostly all actors, save for Ramin Bahrani, the director of "99 Homes." And they all worked in the independent film world this year. So, hey, let's put them on a panel!

That seemed to be the logic behind the group's sit down at AFI Fest on Sunday -- not that festivalgoers were complaining. The star power alone seemed to lure plenty to the chat, which was moderated by the Hollywood Reporter's Scott Feinberg.

And I learned some things, the five most interesting of which I will share with you now:

1. Olivia Wilde still needs dudes to get her films financed

Olivia Wilde’s latest film, the indie “Meadowland,” is a female-directed, female-produced film about a female. Which is why Wilde thinks it was so difficult to get the film financed.

“It was hard not to assume it had something to do with gender,” she admitted. “A lot of the time, the response we were getting was, ‘Wait until you get your guy. When you get the guy, it will be real.’”

And just as Wilde was struggling to find financial backers, she said, she heard a story about how Julianne Moore told producers not to search for financing on her Oscar-winning film “Still Alice” until the male lead was cast.

“And I was shocked by that,” Wilde recalled. “I thought, ‘That’s Julianne [expletive] Moore!’ I thought, if she’s having that struggle, maybe that explains what we’re going through here.”

The money did finally come through on “Meadowland” – after male lead Luke Wilson signed on, Wilde said.

2. Lily Tomlin isn't up on "Freaks and Geeks"

At one point in the conversation, Tomlin proudly pointed out that she was the only one on stage who began her career in television.

"I did too," Wilde pointed out, tapping Jason Segel on the shoulder. "We did -- we both did."

"Well, what age were you?" Tomlin inquired.

"I was 18," Segel said.

"What show was it?" Tomlin asked.

"It was a show called 'Freaks and Geeks," Segel said, prompting cheering from the room.

"Oh, yeah," Tomlin said. "I've heard of that."

She apologized to both actors few minutes later.

"I can't believe you didn't study my work," Wilde quipped.

3. Jason Segel didn't like being known as the funny guy

Segel has his first dramatic lead in this fall's "The End of the Tour," playing the late writer David Foster Wallace. And apparently, the role couldn't have come soon enough for the actor -- who told the crowd he was secretly annoyed by his comedic reputation.

"Being known for doing a certain kind of thing for a long time, you get to be privately resentful that you don't get to show the other sides of you," he shared. "And that's a very comfortable feeling. And then when the opportunity comes [to show those other sides], you're confronted with the possibility that you're wrong, and you're going to lose the opportunity to be resentful. So I'm proud that I tried."

4. Saoirse Ronan has small ears

Ronan had to leave early to participate in another Q&A;, and as she got up to leave, Sarah Silverman made an important discovery:

"Her ears are so little!" the comedian said of Ronan. "Oh my God. I love tiny versions of bigger things."

5. Wilde thinks studios should stay away from film festivals

These days, studios will often premiere their movies at film festivals to earn street cred with hard-core movie fans before wide release. And Wilde is not down with this.

“Festivals are supposed to be for independent film, and I think it crowds the roster and stops filmmakers from being their films,” said the actress.” I just think the studios should get out of the way. They have distribution. They don’t need to be there. They don’t need those audiences. I just think they should beat it.”

Realizing how intense she sounded, she brought her hands to her face: “Oh,” she sighed, “I’m never gonna work again!”

Hollywood is figuring out virtual reality -- slowly

If you were one of the New York Times subscribers who bugged out over the paper's virtual reality videos this weekend, you're going to want to read Steve Zeitchik's article on VR technology. Over the weekend, he went to a panel at AFI Fest, where one of the industry's leading pioneers, Glen Keane, shared his thoughts on the state of VR.

Keane, who spent years at Disney working on animated films such as "Tangled" and "Aladdin," said those in the VR field are "all doing something we don't know how to do in order to learn how to do it."

In other words: Don't get too amped on your spiffy new Google Cardboard viewing device just yet. It'll be a while before you have much to watch on it.

Johnny Depp doesn't need your direction

I stopped reading screen directions a long time ago. The first time I read a script, I read the whole thing. After that, I kind of block out all the screen directions. Why should I know what's supposed to happen? I think it should be much more organic than that.
Johnny Depp, in conversation with Scott Cooper at AFI Fest

How AFI Fest takes over Hollywood

AFI Fest takes place in the heart of Hollywood -- we're talking tourist central, where out-of-towners come to place their handprints in cement and snap photos with Marilyn Monroe impersonators. So having a film festival here can be interesting, and I love how our photographer Jay L. Clendenin is capturing the intersection of glitz and glam with everyday city life. I've posted a few of his shots here so you can see how AFI Fest -- which holds events at big venues like the TCL Chinese Theater and the Roosevelt Hotel -- fits into its surroundings.

With 'Where to Invade Next,' Michael Moore tries to lighten up

Let's be real: Michael Moore documentaries are usually kind of a bummer.

Over the years, the filmmaker has examined America's more troubling issues: our healthcare system, the War on Terror, school shootings. And it started to depress him.

"I've made these documentaries for 25 years, showing everything that's wrong. I got tired," explained Moore, now 61. "Why would you give up a Friday night to go to the theater to discuss again why we had 45 school shootings this year alone?"

So he decided to make "Where to Invade Next," which played AFI Fest on Saturday night. Moore seems to view the movie as his most optimistic yet, describing it as his "no problems, all solutions" doc -- but that doesn't mean it goes easy on the United States. The film sees Moore travel to a handful of different countries, exploring what he thinks makes each place great and how Americans can learn from the rest of the world. Norway, for instance, gives its prisoners ample cell space with individual showers, televisions and refrigerators. In Portugal, drugs have been decriminalized, leading to less drug-related crime. French school kids get chef-prepared, healthy meals served to them at lunchtime. In Tunisia, healthcare -- including abortions -- are free for all women.

The list goes on, and watching the movie, you can start to feel like: "Man, does America kind of suck?" But that's not the point, said Moore, who sat in front of a packed house at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood to discuss the film after the screening.

"We wanted to show things that other countries have been doing for a long time," he said. " Why not go to some of these places that have done the trial and error ... and they now know how it works? We just go and take it."

Which may sound a little naive. But Moore places immense faith in the power of films to create change. In fact, he said it was Ava DuVernay's "Selma" that inspired him to make "Where to Invade Next."

"I was so moved and so shaken by the film," he recalled. "Weeks after seeing 'Selma,' we were like, 'let's do something.' It was very powerful that just us seeing a movie and getting inspired to go make this movie. We weren't going to make anything like 'Selma' -- this was gonna be a documentary that dealt with something else -- but we weren't gonna be afraid to say the things that needed to be said."

DuVernay, as it turned out, was in the audience, later tweeting that learning she had inspired Moore was a "wow moment":

So? How did "By the Sea" go over with AFI moviegoers?

Angelina greets fans before her big premiere

In the midst of Hollywood fanfare, Angelina Jolie-Pitt gets real

Movie premieres always attract celebrity gawkers, and they're easily identifiable: Overdressed in ball gowns. Awkwardly lingering around the VIP section. Clutching iPhones, camera at the ready.

But that description fit nearly everyone who attended the unveiling of "By the Sea," the new film written and directed by Angelina Jolie-Pitt. The somber marital drama, in which she costars with her husband, Brad Pitt, kicked off this year's AFI Fest at Hollywood's TCL Chinese Theatre on Thursday night.

Hollywood Boulevard has, of course, been host to big names over the years. But even the most jaded of industry veterans appeared starry-eyed when face to face with Brangelina. At the after-party for the event, held across the street from the Chinese at the Roosevelt Hotel, guests formed a massive semicircle around the couple. As Jolie-Pitt exchanged words with screen legend Gena Rowlands -- that's Allie from "The Notebook," millennials -- onlookers snapped endless photographs.

It was an odd dance -- the celebrities, pretending not to notice dozens of fans -- the fans, pretending the celebrities didn't share their DNA.

Yes, Jolie-Pitt was in a Swarovski-beaded gown, her husband on her arm in a tux with his hair slicked back. But despite the glitz, the 40-year-old actress was, in a way, at her most human Thursday night. Before introducing "By the Sea," AFI President Bob Gazzale recalled how Jolie-Pitt's late mother, Marcheline Bertrand, joined the AFI in 1970 and was active in the organization for three decades.

"God bless you, Marcheline, for the gift of daughter who is now a mom and the gift to all of us who love the movies," Gazzale said of Betrand, who died of cancer in 2007.

Jolie-Pitt was visibly moved by the remembrance, and walked out to greet the film crowd with tears in her eyes. Her mother, she said, had inspired the movie about a couple struggling to move past infertility issues.

"This is a film, at the core, about grief and that grief was from the loss of my mother," Jolie Pitt said. "But at the end, I think this film is also about learning about how to move past it."